Blue Monday: Nature’s healing

Alex Staniforth fell in love with the outdoors while experiencing depression and struggling to access NHS services. That’s where the seed for Mind Over Mountains was planted.

A picture of Alex, wearing a T-shirt with the Mind Over Mountains logo, standing in front of some green mountains.

Alex Staniforth founded Mind Over Mountains with his friend Chris Spray upon realising that it took him longer to access NHS mental health services than it did to climb all 100 UK county tops. 

Mind Over Mountains combines the benefits of walking and spending time in nature with therapeutic support from professional counsellors. In partnership with Adventure Uncovered, the project initially began as an impact event before he officially launched the charity with Chris in 2020. 

Alex encouragingly dubs the charity the Natural Health Service, offering professional mental health support for people in a safe space as they reconnect with nature. 

A picture of a group of people climbing a mountain.

EXPERIENCE 

Alex has lived experience with depression, epilepsy and anxiety which led him towards his career as an adventurer and mental health advocate. “I’ve had epilepsy since I was about nine. I’ve been seizure-free for 15 years now, but the epilepsy was a catalyst for lots of different challenges,” explains Alex. 

“I’ve had a stammer all my life. I was bullied badly through school, and I had general anxiety and panic attacks from a very early age, so going through school was a really challenging and scary time for me,” states Alex. “I found the outdoors when I was about 14, and that became my way of going through all this and dealing with anxiety.” 

Alex is now a record-breaking adventurer and author, who climbed Mount Everest twice as a teenager. With all his achievements and accolades, Alex continues to reflect on the time it took him to access mental support in the UK. 

“After Everest, I did a challenge called Climb the UK, which involves climbing to the highest points of all the counties in the UK; around 5,000 miles of running, walking, cycling and kayaking over 72 days,” explains Alex. “What really struck me from that journey was that it took me longer to get the help I needed for depression from the NHS than it did to cycle 5,000 miles around the UK.” 

A picture of a group of people posing at the top of a mountain.

MIND OVER MOUNTAINS 

Mind Over Mountains is more than just walking; it’s a combination of professional therapists and counsellors coming together with mountain leaders and like-minded individuals to make a difference. Events take place across the UK, and range from one-day guided hill walks to rural weekend retreats alongside trained coaches and counsellors for support. 

“You have trained people there who can work through all sorts of issues and challenges, whatever people bring,” enthuses Alex. “There’s also mindfulness which people can use in their everyday life, with the chance to slow down and notice what’s going on. 

“I’m always amazed and inspired by what people can overcome and achieve just to get [help]. That’s always the hardest part.” 

 Visit Mind Over Mountains or a full list of weekend retreats across the UK. 

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